AN ANALYSIS OF JUST AFTER SUNSET BY STEPHEN KING
Stephen King’s success in the world of horror fiction comes from his healthy appreciation for the conventions of this genre. This is the reason why he is able to twist and distort the conventions without having to sacrifice the quality of his prose. While ‘Just After Sunset’ does not necessarily reflect the progress of this writer in the genre, such is expected because this collection is a reprinting of mostly, previously published pieces by the author. Despite this feature, the collection is still a reflection of the inner voice of the author, a voice that he values himself, when he personally said about a particular book, “Its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside.” (King, 1947) King recognizes the value of the inner voice when writing his prose, and as such, has been quite effective in coaxing various emotions from his readers – not only fear, but other emotions that might as well be considered affiliate emotions of fear.
‘Just after Sunset’ is more characteristic of the author’s exploration of the inner self than it is of the world at large that he uses to instill fear in most of his novels and stories. King (1947) way of affixing fear to everyday regular everyday objects making them items of enigma and dread as is seen clearly in his story ‘The Monkey’ (King, 1985) from ‘The Skeleton Crew’ (King, 1985), where a toy monkey becomes a creature from hell; to regular everyday events, like a plane flight in his novelette, ‘The Langoliers’ (King, 1990) which is about a flight that turns into something more gruesome; to natural, seemingly harmless phenomena, like “the mist” (King, 1980) in his story of the same title; and regular, ordinary people, like the head waiter in his story, “Lunch at Gotham Café” (King, 2002) who goes on a blood and gore killing spree.
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‘Just after Sunset’ is no different from the other collections of King tackling various ordinary subjects and turning them into objects of fear. As opposed to classic presentations of fear like in gothic literature that explores fear using the gothic culture as a platform (Briefel, 2007), King takes fear to a whole new level.
The imagery used by King in his stories in ‘Just after Sunset’ closely mimics the imagery that he uses in his previous novels and stories. The common denominator of the imagery in his stories is the particular attention to detail that he uses to stimulate the most mundane perceptions of man in materializing fear. In his story, ‘Harvey’s Dream’ (King, 2008), for instance, he refers to the physical appearance of Harvey, “slumped at the shoulder, and blank in the eye, a white scruff showing on his cheeks, man-tits sagging out the front of his T, hair standing up back like Alfalfa of the ‘Little Rascals’ grown old and stupid” (King, 2008) and repeats this description in a modified manner all throughout the tale to give the story an overall monotonous tone, but creating the image of a man who has nothing better to say, and hence, would most likely be the source of a prophecy. Harvey, in this story, fits the mold of the classic New York doomsday prophet, only on a more progressive and modern level. In terms of setting, King’s (2008) rich imagery is also evident in the same story. He has a way of making eerie images from everyday objects and events with the use of a cataloguing style of imagery, like in his story, ‘The Gingerbread Girl’;
“She ran downtown (two miles, twenty-two minutes), not even stopping when the light was against her; when that happened, she jogged in place. A couple of boys in a top-down Mustang — it was just getting to be top-down weather — passed her at the corner of
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Main and Eastern. One whistled. Em gave him the finger. He laughed and applauded as the Mustang accelerated down Main.”
Another quaint feature in King’s (2008) imagery is his ability to take a cliché, ‘palm fronds’ and use this in a different context, thus creating a surreal and very dynamic image, for instance, “pictures of missing children that rustled faintly, like the fronds of the palm trees, in the night breeze.” (King, 2008). Although we very well know that many a writer has used this particular image of ‘the fronds of palm trees’ in their writing, King uses the image here in a whole new way.
In terms of voice, in most of his stories, Stephen King (2008) uses the 3rd person perspective. This can be a very faulty voice when used by an unskillful writer because it leaves a lot of risk for the writer contriving with his characters to make the story sound rigged; but King (2008) uses this in his stories without giving in to the temptation of dallying with the lives of his characters. What this does in his stories, is it gives him total control over the events happening in his stories, but despite this control, King (2008) manages to maintain an invisible hand in his stories, quite a feat, some might say. In a few of the stories, however, King also uses the first person perspective, like in ‘Stationary Bike’, ‘N’, and ‘Rest Stop’. The interesting quality of King’s (2008) using this voice, however, is his attribution of a certain unconventional peeve to the speaker/narrator in the story, so that it becomes quite unusual. Jax, in ‘Harvey’s Dream’ for instance, talks in a very lethargic, and indifferent way until she gives in to her fear; the patient in ‘N’, talks very sanely but soon turns out to have some psychological imbalances, as with the narrator in ‘Rest Stop’.
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King’s (2008) characters in ‘Just after Sunset’ are undeniably very ordinary people given in to extraordinary events; with the exception of ‘The Cat from Hell’ (King, 2008) where the main character is not actually the cat killer but the cat itself, all other characters are very ordinary people leading very ordinary lives. To note, however, is King’s (2008) ability to attribute characterization to certain inanimate objects like the bike, in “Stationary bike” (King, 2008), the stone hedges in “N” (King, 2008), and the telephone in “Harvey’s Dream” (King, 2008), or the items found in the apartment of the main character in “The Things they left Behind”. This distinct quality of King’s prose shows that in his stories the characters are not all human; instead, his characters can come in many different forms. In consideration of his human characters however, he seems to have a love affair with the normal, unabashedly ordinary human being. As with King’s choice of settings, these are undoubtedly modern, with the exception of his novel, “The Eyes of the Dragon” (King, 1987) and the “Darktower Series” (King, 1970-2004) all the rest of his stories are set in modern day America; a distinct quality of stories from a writer who wants to make fear out of what seems to be innocently ordinary.
King’s (2008) stories follow a very unconventional mold. While being set in modern day America, and happening to very ordinary people, his stories derive fear from that fact that what happens in his stories could actually happen to anybody. King (2008) capitalizes on the possibility of reality in his stories in “Just Before Sunset” (King, 2008). As a result, because of the possibility of his stories happening in real life, the stories become scarier. In stories where there is a slim possibility of actual materialization, King (2008) uses the device of mental or psychological imbalance to introduce the possibility of something with a supernature happening
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to ordinary people. This particular style of storytelling is evident in all of his stories from the collection.
King’s popularity has grown over the years and span generations. It would not be surprising that in the following years and for years to come, King (2008) will still have his own readership. The quality of his prose transcends the boundaries of time and space, perhaps because he learned from the works of masters like Edgar Allan Poe. There will always be a market for King’s fiction so long as people want to get scared. In the real life, being scared is unacceptable and can result to unproductivity, so what better what better way to experience fear than from a book that you read, tucked safely in your blankets, in the comfort of your own bedroom – a Stephen King book, that is, for maximum goose bump effect.
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Briefel, A. (2007). The Victorian Literature of Fear (Vol. 4, 2nd ed., pp. 508-523). Bowdoin College. Retrieved February 28, 2009, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00419.x
King, S. (1990). Four Past Midnight (Vol. 1). New York City: Penguin Publishing.
King, S. (2008). Just After Sunset (Vol. 1, , pp. 1-367). New York City: Scribner.
King, S. (1978). Night Shift (Vol. 1). New York City: Putnam Publishing.
King, S. (2008). Quotes from Stephen King. Retrieved February 28, 2009, from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/s/stephen_king.html